Saturday, December 06, 2008

We Happen to Think This Idea Applies Not Only
To Writing, But Also to the Rest of Life's Pursuits

'Sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”'
--Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast. Thanks to the incomparable Jenny Rough for bringing this to my attention at just the right moment. While you're at it, check out her recent musings in the L.A. Times on seasonal affective disorder, which certainly (as she notes) impacts people in these parts who are affected by the endless gray skies and lack of sunlight of Northeast Ohio winters. She lived for several years on the west coast, and now lives in the D.C. area, but she grew up in Ohio.

10 Comments:

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever I'm stumped to find the perfect word to express my thought, b/c I've misplaced my muse, I tend to surf the net; stopping here and there to write a short comment on fellow writer's blog posting.

Of course, it's not nearly as romantic as peeling oranges by a wild fire in Paris, but it gives my mind a little break and then I'm ready to go at it again.

Thanks for being there with something witty and wonderful.

Neve

 
At 4:15 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I think most of us do that, Neve. You're in good company.

 
At 4:54 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

That's why I say hibernation for us folks in the North wouldn't be a bad idea...

 
At 7:31 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I don't know about you, Miles, but an awful lot of folks I know around here do a fair bit of hibernating in the winter. Of course, some folks hibernate all year long.

 
At 11:14 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Winter is one of my most creatively productive periods, January in particular. Having SAD, though, by the time February rolls around, I'm ready for a break in the weather. March is the ugliest month of the year in the upper Midwest: all the snow has gone but the green hasn't yet returned.

When I need to put orange peels in the fire, I don't surf the internet. I find that inputting too much information from other people clogs the pipes rather than clears them. I do get up and go do something else. I find cleaning and organizing helpful to clearing the mind, because for me at least visual clutter creates mental clutter. Surfing the internet makes things scattered rather than focused, because it's all input. I get mentally constipated, the same as watching too much TV, and it makes me almost physically ill. I've found that the best way thing for me to do is find ways to quiet the mind, rather than agitate it; so meditation is better than surfing when I'm trying to write. Shifting gears is always a great idea, as is doing something else; I think Hemingway was saying something like that.

It's like you have to stop watching the kettle to see if it will boil. You're still giving it your utmost attention but you're not staring at it, waiting, almost forcing it to boil faster, instead you're off somewhere else in the kitchen. You can still hear it bubble, though, and will come back to it as soon as it's ready.

The point is, you have to leave it alone rather than force it.

The most important part of this Hemingway quote for me is how he reminds himself that he's done it before, so he will do it again. Far too many writers get themselves blocked because they're afraid they'll never do it again. Never live up to their previous level, or their expectations for themselves. I think fear, this fear in particular, is exactly what creates blocks. Hemingway reminds himself that if you've done it once, you CAN do it again.

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Well said, Art. I find the winter tremendously productive, but like you (and perhaps many) by March I'm generally getting pretty tired of it. I think we need to point out here how important exercise is mentally & emotionally for optimum creative output, doubly so in winter, when it's easy to be so much more sedentary. A three-mile walk at a brisk pace on an indoor track is my most important winter produvtivity enhancer.

 
At 6:47 PM, Blogger Diane Vogel Ferri said...

The Hemingway quote is inspirational - got to remember that one. Thanks

 
At 7:35 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Glad it spoke to you also, Diane. I was quite taken with it myself. Here's hoping that your words, like Hemingway's, will still be inspiring readers a half century after you're gone.

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger Jenny said...

John,

Thank you! Hope winter's going well in Ohio. We got our first snow flurries in DC. Maybe I'll build a fire and gather some oranges. Let's chat one of these days!

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

We used to live in D.C., and I remember how sometimes even an inch or two of snow would shut things down for a couple days. In fact, my first week of living there (I think it was 1982) the city had one of its biggest snow storms in a half century, draping Georgetown in a way that made it look like Vermont. Good luck with that fire, and I look forward to our chat, Jenny.

 

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